SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Despite increased efforts from local and national organizations, minority populations were undercounted in the 2020 Census according to a report released this week by the Census Bureau. One group, though, was undercounted at a higher disparity than in the 2010 Census and the underrepresentation has resulted in the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funds.

American Indians and Native Alaskans continue to be underrepresented in Census data but it’s not for a lack of trying, according to Samantha Kelty. Kelty is an attorney at the Native American Resource Fund and was a part of the national network of Native American organizations that led outreach initiatives to encourage more participation in the 2020 Census.

According to Kelty, racial and ethnic minorities are historically underrepresented in these decennial counts. That is due to “hard-to-count” circumstances that minorities live in, Kelty said. In addition, young children are severely undercounted compared to other age groups.

“Despite the undercount, without the substantial efforts in 2020 in South Dakota and throughout Indian country, the undercount would have been significantly higher,” Kelty told KELOLAND News Friday morning.

Compared to the 2010 Census, American Indian and Native Alaskans were undercounted at a much higher rate in 2022. The 2010 count missed only .01% of the entire population but 4.9% of Native Americans, 2% of Black Americans, 1.5% of Hispanic Americans and .08% of Asian Americans. In 2010, the Census overcounted white Americans by .8%.

In 2020, the Census missed .24% of the total population, a small but noticeable increase from .01% in 2010. The count also saw a higher disparity in undercounting with 5.6% of Native Americans, 3.3% of Black Americans, and 5% of Hispanic Americans missing from the count. White and Asian Americans were overcounted by 1.6% and 2.6% respectively.

There are several contributing factors as to why these groups continue to be undercounted according to Kelty, one of which is a gap in outreach between the Bureau and minority populations.

“For example, the Bureau doesn’t promote census participation across the full range of ethnic media channels, and its messaging doesn’t necessarily reflect the concerns, interests, culture and languages of all communities,” Kelty said.

That’s why South Dakota Voices for Peace (SDVFP) created the People’s Count Coalition in 2020 to engage minority populations in participating in the Census. Jen Dreiske, Deputy Director for SDVFP, says that included dozens of local organizations and community advocates providing information to immigrant and Muslim communities by translating materials into a variety of languages.

Dreiske says that even with increased efforts to reach underrepresented communities, the pandemic still provided a barrier that prohibited face-to-face conversations. “We had to take into consideration the safety of the communities.”

Dreiske says that the main contributing factor in the undercount stems from a lack of effort from government officials to effectively engage communities in the count. It’s part of why SDVFP strives to engage immigrant and Muslim populations in community conversations, she added.

“It is essential that our local government officials take heed and learn from this census and start planning,” Dreiske said. “So, when the next census comes around, we have developed relationships and we have a strategic action plan to ensure all citizens, all people in South Dakota are counted.” 

In addition to the pandemic and language barriers, the attempt to include a question about citizenship status may have scared some populations away from participating. Director of the Census Bureau added that joblessness and housing insecurity may have also contributed to the undercounting of the Hispanic community.

The 2020 Census period was also shorter in length compared to years past.

“Of particular concern for the Native community was that the 2020 Census ended early despite the fact that self-response rates were lagging significantly in Native communities, compared to 2010,” Kelty said.

Funding, political representation lost for minority communities

The undercounting of minority populations goes beyond numbers, though. Kelty and Dreiske both explained that underrepresentation affects everything from federal funding to representation in state and national politics.

According to the Census Project, there was $1.5 trillion at stake following the 2020 Census. Due to the undercounting of Native Americans by approximately 100,000 people, Indian Country lost out on more than $300 million according to a report from the Associated Press.

“It’s unfortunate that they will not get the allocated money that they need because they have been undercounted and therefore under-represented.”

Jen Dreiske

Those funds go to services such as health care, education, job training, community development, and a variety of other infrastructure needs, Kelty said. She says that undercounting of the Native population has had led to a lack of federal resources over the years for these communities.

“In many cases, years of underfunding have left tribal nations with critical infrastructure and programmatic needs,” Kelty said.

Not only is there money lost when undercounting happens, but communities of color may have their political representation affected in state and federal politics. Having accurate counts of different demographics can ensure that communities have equal voting strength, according to Kelty.

“Census data determines how many seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are allotted to each state,” Kelty explained. “All research involving economic and social policy incorporates some aspect of census data. Census data is used to plan for community needs.”

This is important in South Dakota she adds as the Native community in South Dakota relies on the Census to advocate for redistricting, she added. The Congressional Black Caucus echoed similar concerns for Black Americans in a letter that was sent to the Census Bureau.

“A Census that does not accurately represent Black communities robs them of their equal share of federal resources in education, health care, housing, nutrition assistance, and many other areas — perpetuating systemic racism,” the letter read.

SDVFP is already planning to aid in Census efforts in 2030 in the same way that they participated in 2020, Dreiske said. Kelty concluded that no census is perfect.

“The quality of the 2020 Census total population count is robust and consistent with that of recent censuses,” she said.